Although crews are finishing up its fit-out, the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum grand opening may not be held until late spring, according to members of the museum’s Board of Trustees. If so, it would put the museum opening almost three years behind its original schedule.
The latest reports pegged the museum opening in March, but Alabama Port Authority CEO and GulfQuest board member Jimmy Lyons said it would most likely open later than expected.
“It’s probably going to be later in spring,” Lyons said. “It’s getting close, but I don’t think it’ll make the March date.”
Lyons said GulfQuest would probably open to the public in May or June, but it would be a “spectacular museum” when it does.
He said a lot of exhibits are already in and crews are finishing up punch list items.
“Nobody’s more anxious than those of us on the board of trustees,” Lyons said.
The GulfQuest building was issued its certificate of occupancy from the city in July. At the time, Executive Director Tony Zodrow put the opening date at six months from the issuance of that certificate, which would’ve put the date near the end of the year. City spokesman George Talbot said previously the museum would have a soft opening this month before ramping up to a grand opening in March.
Talbot said Monday the city is currently paying about $20,000 a month for the building’s utilities and will continue to do so until it opens. The operating agreement between the city and GulfQuest states the museum will reimburse the city for “services provided to the nonprofit for the operations of the maritime museum.”
The city is also on the hook for any capital repairs on the building’s roof, structure and major systems, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said. The agreement states GulfQuest will pay for “normal” repairs.
The building did host three holiday parties this month, including one for the Alabama Port Authority.
Zodrow called word of the late spring opening “hearsay” in an email message over the weekend. He wrote there wouldn’t be any further details at this time, but added that a media announcement was in the works.
“Right now, we’re not providing any media tours or new information relative to GulfQuest’s opening in 2015,” he wrote. “We will announce the museum’s opening date at a news conference after the first of the year.”
Board member Mike Lee said the museum plans to have a soft opening with students from area schools in February or March. He said a grand opening would occur after that.
Lee confirmed that crews were still working on punch list items, as well as building out the cafeteria and the gift shop.
The gift shop, designed by a group of Auburn University graduate students, will look like a sunken Spanish ship, Lee said. The ceiling will be painted to look like water and the cash register area will be built out to look like the ship’s crow’s nest, Lee said.
“Exhibits are still being installed,” Lee said. “There will be 92 exhibits in total in the museum.
Every time I go in there are a couple more,” Lee said. “It’s getting exciting.”
The museum’s board has raised $11 million in private funds for the project, Lee said, surpassing a $10 million goal. The goal for private funding has been raised to $12 million, with a public fundraising phase slated to begin after the first of the year, Lee said.
Lee said the city has invested $28 to $32 million in the project and he estimated that the finished product would be a $62 million asset.
GulfQuest has been under construction since 2009 and was originally slated to open in July 2012.
Board member Barry Vittor said trustees are anxious to open the museum to the public, although he added he wasn’t sure if an opening date had been determined.
“It’s going to be spectacular,” Vittor said about GulfQuest. “I think it’ll be a tremendous asset.”
Despite numerous delays since construction began, Mayor Sandy Stimpson previously told Lagniappe he believes GulfQuest will be successful once it’s open.
“I do think it’s a world-class facility based on my walk-throughs of it,” he said earlier this year.
“I think the question marks everybody has in their mind are things we won’t know until we hit the deck running, and that’s will we get people to attend? Not just our citizens, but can we get the visitor to stop and go there? Can we divert some of the traffic off of (Interstate) 10 to go there, like they do the Battleship? That’s one of those things that they have a plan for, they did some research on and they think that it can be done. I’m pulling that they’re right.”
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